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Girls go fastest at derby

June 13, 2004|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Antoinette Schill's polka-dotted race car is headed for Akron, Ohio, then to a museum after its winning run down a South Queen Street hill in Saturday's Norwalk Soap Box Derby.

Andrea Edwards won first place in the super stock (230 pounds including car and driver) competition. Schill won in the stock class (200 pounds).

Natalee Unger, 10, got new wheels for her car this year and hoped they would give her an edge. Last year, she lost to derby winner Tyler Duke, who, she said, "beat me by four-hundredths of a second."

The new wheels worked. She came in second in the stock car class Saturday.

For the first time in Martinsburg history, two girls will compete July 31 in the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron.

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"My car is sponsored by Dubble Bubble (bubble gum) and they want to put it in a museum," said Schill, 12, who put the colored dots on the car herself.

Schill filled some big racing shoes Saturday. Her stepbrother is Tyler Duke and she has two cousins who race. It's a family tradition, she said.

"Yes, I'm a little nervous, but I'm excited," she said.

She was one of 65 drivers, about half of whom were girls, who competed Saturday. Girls have been racing nationally since 1972.

Jessica Oester, 12, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., won in the super stock race last year. She raced Saturday in a brand new stock car.

Saturday was the fifth consecutive derby since the event returned to Martinsburg in 2000 after a 49-year hiatus. The last race before that was held in 1951. The first was in 1936 and it ran continuously until 1951 except for four years during World War II, race director Ron Butts said.

The derby was revised by members of the local Norwalk Antique Car Club who had competed in 1951 in Martinsburg, race treasurer Roger Hamood said.

Youths ages 8 to 17 are eligible to race.

Soap Box Derby racing is old hat for Emilee Shrader, 16. Saturday was her fifth race.

Shrader has raced the same super stock car for the last four years. She said she hasn't changed it.

"We spin the wheels every day, for hours. It's all we can do," she said.

Spinning the wheels reduces friction by keeping the bearings warm, racers said. Some drivers waiting in line for their turn at the hill kept their cars off the ground with wheels spinning.

Things have changed since the 1951 race, Butts said.

"Back then, kids bought the wheels, steering wheel and axles and built their cars around them," he said. Today, cars come in kits with fiberglass bodies, he said.

The kits cost about $500. Most cars carried advertising of their sponsors.

The race course runs south for 630 feet on South Queen Street from King to Stephen streets. The car's only fuel is gravity.

The right-hand lane is faster than the left so drivers get two runs, one in each lane, Butts said.

He said a radar gun set up last year clocked the racers at about 26 mph at the finish line.

Saturday's activities ended with an awards picnic in the evening at War Memorial Park.

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